Matthew Benoit: Steelpan
Matthew Benoit: Helping others pursue their musical dreams.

Matthew Benoit the steelpan teacher

By Vedesh Nath. Matthew Benoit can be deemed as the guy next door. With a warm smile, passionate eyes and modest façade, he possesses qualities that make us all want to know him. So let’s get more acquainted.

Matthew Benoit grew up watching Saturday morning cartoons like all of us. He loves playing tennis and badminton. But his hobbies would be sealed with the rumbling of a steelpan through his hometown. The community which he grew up in housed the steelpan band Harlem Syncopathers. With the encouragement of his mother, Matthew and his brother joined the band. Here, Matthew Benoit’s first love affair began.

He played steelpan merely for sport, but his inquisitiveness would stir. He studied the history of steelpan and the art of playing steelpan. Today – at the young age of 22, Matthew bares more experience and knowledge than the usual person his age.

He can confidently give you an education in steelpan. “The steelpan is the national instrument of Trinidad and Tobago,” he states. “It is the only musical instrument invented in the 20th century. Created in the 1930s, the steelpan owes its genesis to the Carnival festivals of that era. It emerged as the product of the energy of the people directed towards cultural self-expression. The steelpan therefore became a cultural vehicle forged from the historical and social conditions prevailing at that time. Its development was moulded by the ethnic influences of our heritage.”

Dream to open a steelpan academy

Matthew’s love for steelpan made him want a formal education in music and steelpan. He studied at the Royal Schools of Music where he learned how to read music. He then enrolled into the University of Trinidad and Tobago where he pursued a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Music. However, he soon realised that the programme was not nursing his passion entirely.

His dream was to open a steelpan academy. He obtained business certificates from the National Integrated Business Incubation System in collaboration with the College of Science, Technology and Applied Arts of Trinidad and Tobago and then the Youth Training and Employment Partnership Programme. His dream began to materialise in 2014 when he won the Ideas to Innovation award from the Ministry of Planning and then again in 2015 when he won the National Youth Award for Entrepreneurship.

Benefits of a steelpan orchestra

After winning these awards, Matthew opened Benoit Academy of Steelpan in Diego Martin which he felt was much needed for the youth. “Learning the instrument is important to all citizens in Trinidad and Tobago,” he says. “It is our own instrument and heritage and we should take pride in what we create. By taking part in a steelpan orchestra, a child or adult can learn how to work together in groups, be disciplined and responsible.”

The Benoit Academy of Steelpan currently offers certificate programmes in music theory and steelpan practical to students from Forms One through Five. The Academy is in the process of developing further certificate and diploma programmes for its students. It will also be having its annual July/August camp. Registration to enrol in the Academy is still ongoing. All interested persons can contact the Academy at 868-709-1993 or email: benoitacademy@hotmail.com.

The young professional believes that steelpan can lend to a decline in the crime spike. “As we see, there is a lack of respect for those in authority by youths in school and at home. There are a lot of unemployed youths who have dropped out of school or never got all the passes required to go to a higher level of education.” He says that steelpan can positively influence young people as it gives them a chance to express themselves. It also provides worthwhile occupation for persons and produces employment opportunities at cultural events such as Panorama.

Benoit helps others pursue musical dreams

Matthew also believes that the performing arts is one of our main exports and can ease the government’s current scrimmage in finding diversification. “The arts and culture industry in Trinidad and Tobago can generate a lot of revenue to benefit the economy,” Matthew orates.

When asked if he had to choose between teaching or performing – Matthew chose teaching. “I can impact more lives from what I have learnt in music. The opportunities that I never had – I am able to help someone else pursue their musical dreams. Teaching music is a joy to me. It is the reason I wake up each day – to make a difference through steelpan. I would say to all aspiring pannists to never give up on your musical dream. Nothing is ever impossible. And don’t play the blame game but rather be the change that you want to see in your life. There will come a time when people will tell you that music has no money in it but you have to know yourself and don’t let the opinion of others rule your life.”

Benefits of a steelpan orchestra

Matthew serves as an inspiration to us all. He is a fine example of a dreamer who worked and continues to work for his aspirations. He is a lad who passionately plays the steelpan, takes badminton breaks in between and decks-off in a suit (as he would most likely be on his way to collect his next award).

For more information on Benoit Academy of Steelpan, you can visit http://www.benoitacademy.org/

June 2016 – Issue 22    www.sweettntmagazine.com

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